Dressed in reflective yellow construction gear while working under the cover of darkness early Monday, a small group of artists installed a tribute to NSA-leaker Edward Snowden in a Brooklyn park.
The Snowden bust stands atop a column at the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park, a site built to honor more than 11,000 American prisoners of war who died aboard British ships during the American Revolutionary War.
The location is no coincidence.
Speaking to Mashable on the condition of anonymity, the artists said they chose the spot because it is “loaded with significance and meaning and reverence of others.” It positions Snowden, they said, “as a continuation of a story that began at the beginning of this country” — one represented in the plight of the captured Americans.
“We feel that Snowden’s actions really continue that story,” said the artists. “It is built upon a set of ideals to live freely, not be confined or surveilled or monitored by your government. You can’t have freedom of expression to pursue liberty if you feel like you’re doing it under a watchful eye.”
The three artists — two of whom who planned the idea while a third created the “museum-quality” sculpture itself — spent the better part of year on the project.
Their hard work paid off: Animal New York’s Bucky Turco, who exclusively documented the installation Monday morning, said it looks so official that “over a dozen people walking their dogs passed by the new bust on Monday morning without noticing the unsanctioned piece.”
While they originally considered other locations to install the sculpture — Belvedere Castle was one of them — they felt the Martyrs Monument offered them the best chance to convey the ideals that Snowden’s revelations are all about.
“It’s not just about Snowden. It’s about the ideals that he was trying to work towards and push others to care about.” The monument to the POWs, “who were fighting for the same ideals that Snowden is fighting for” gave them a bridge to make their case.
“This is a guy who some of the traditional mass media has portrayed as a traitor, or a terrorist, and the very same thing would have been said about these POWs in the Revolutionary War times,” they said. “But with 200 years of perspective, we realized they were fighting for something all of us are very grateful for. We hope it will shift people’s perceptions, or open their eyes, that there could be a different story than what they’e been told.”
While others have created Snowden statues before, they’ve primarily been mobile installations. The sculpture that now stands in Fort Greene Park is permanent — or at least until the Parks Department removes it.
The artists said they hope the city will considering leaving the sculpture where it is — they said it was designed specifically for its current location, so it “feels organic” and doesn’t ruin the “vibe and the flow” — though they recognize that’s probably not going to happen.
Ideally, for the artists, the city would preserve the statue and make it accessible to people, allowing New Yorkers to continue the conversation that began when Snowden leaked batches of NSA documents to Glenn Greenwald.
“If you look at history, the people we honor with statues now — certainly the people rebelling against the British rules — were criminals one day,” the artists said. “Now they’re heroes.”
“We’re wondering if on the long arc of time Snowden will be considered a hero, too.”
Update 11:45 a.m. ET: Instagram user Justine Williams says park rangers had already removed the “Snowden” sign from the monument. We’ve reached out to the Parks Department to see if they have plans to remove the sculpture, too.
Update: 12:30 p.m. ET: Vine’s Jeremy Cabalona has video of NYC Parks Department workers covering up the Snowden statue with a blue tarp.
Update 1:30 p.m. ET: Workers are working on taking the statue down.
Originally published on http://mashable.com/2015/04/06/snowden-sculpture-fort-greene-brooklyn